Iruan Ergui Wu (吳憶樺) ended his 17-day visit to his father’s homeland on Sunday, with his Taiwanese relatives hoping he will return soon to study at a university that has offered him free tuition.
The 18-year-old bid farewell to his uncle, Wu Huo-yen (吳火眼), and to dozens of his relatives who came from Greater Kaohsiung to send the teenager off at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
“The past 17 days have been very special for me. I felt very happy and blessed,” Iruan said.
He added that he was “reluctant and sad” to leave Taiwan and hoped he could come back soon, but his priority is to complete his high-school studies back in Brazil.
The teenager is living with his foster mother, Etna Borkert, in the city of Canoas, Porto Alegre, in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Shih Chien University president Michael Chen (陳振貴) told media that he would like Iruan to return to Taiwan and take up his degree at the university in Taipei, which announced it would provide him with free tuition.
“Our school will offer him free tuition in the form of a scholarship. Other organizations will provide living allowances and other subsidies for his university studies in Taiwan,” Chen said at a press conference in Taipei on Sunday.
Chen is the chairman of the Taiwan Catholic Mission Foundation (TCMF), which funded Iruan’s “homecoming,” and the travel expenses of his foster mother and foster brother, Cassio Borkert.
Chen said that average university tuition fees were NT$90,000 a year, making the total for a four-year university program, NT$360,000.
In addition, the foundation has pledged to cover Iruan’s expenses with a living allowance subsidy of NT$10,000 per month.
Should Wu attend Shih Chien, the total grant and subsidies for four years would total about NT$840,000, Chen said.
At the airport, Iruan was presented with a letter by his uncle, which told the teenager to keep in mind that “he is a son of Taiwan,” and that Wu Huo-yen wanted Iruan “to return to his father’s homeland more often.”
Then, unexpectedly, Iruan knelt down to thank his uncle and Taiwanese relatives for everything they have done for him.
Wu Huo-yen said he was touched by the gesture, because in Taiwanese custom this is a display of a person’s gratitude and respect for their elders.
Controversy has surrounded Iruan’s trip. The methods used by the foundation in seeking public donations to sponsor the trip, along with an alleged romantic intrigue with a Taiwanese television journalist generated further publicity.
Foundation executive director Austin Ou (歐晉仁) showed his displeasure at being asked about the incident by media at the airport, replying: “Iruan said he did not do that,” while refusing to translate the question into Portuguese for the teenager.
Iruan was born in Brazil in May 1995 to a Taiwanese fishing boat captain, Wu Teng-shu (吳登樹), and a Brazilian woman, Marisa Ergui Tavares — although they never married.
After both parents died, a bitter international custody battle ensued in 2001 between his Taiwanese and Brazilian families.
The battle resulted in Iruan being removed from Wu’s home and sent back to Brazil in February 2004.